In 2020, the MIT Sloan School of Management strengthened its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by establishing the Endowment for Enduring Diversity and Inclusion—a fellowship program that aims to encourage and empower students from underrepresented populations. The MIT Sloan community has since responded. Here is one of their inspirational stories...
For Yu-Ting Kuo, SM ’94, supporting MIT Sloan’s Endowment for Enduring Diversity and Inclusion is a philanthropic opportunity to address pressing societal issues that were made all the more apparent over the past year. Diversity holds myriad meanings for Kuo, from diversity of thought to diversity of experience and identity—all elements that are independently important while often intrinsically linked. His personal and professional experience and growth in these realms has led him to recognize graduate education—and management education in particular—as key to scaling diversity in the workforce.
“There are a lot of things that we can and need to work on to make our society a more diverse and inclusive place. But that said, I think education—and especially higher education—could actually play a very fundamental and pivotal role in shaping our next generation of leaders to have a more diverse and inclusive mindset.”
MIT Sloan has the reputation of inspiring, training, and producing leaders in a diverse array of sectors and industries. In addition to following common business school trajectories, many MIT Sloan students have backgrounds in and aspirations for STEM and/or entrepreneurial ventures. The application of management practice to the sciences, Kuo argues, is crucial to teaching these students “soft skills.” Kuo uses air quotes around the term “soft” because he views this as a misnomer. What the term really translates to is leadership skills, and the mastery of such skills is often what enables an excellent engineer to also be an excellent leader—as was the case for Kuo.
Soon after starting at MIT Sloan, Kuo realized that while there was some overlap, being a good engineering student was different from being a good business student. But he leaned into and leveraged that challenge and has since coached others on appreciating the distinctiveness of varying knowledge sets.
As a student, Kuo also navigated the challenges that came with being from another country. “Being a foreign, Asian student and a non-native speaker, I was among the minority at that time.” Few of Kuo’s peers shared his background, and he did not know of a role model to turn to. “That made the whole journey harder, so I feel very motivated now that I’m in a position that I can give back and can help some of those students.”
Kuo also points out how important it is that our classrooms reflect the diversity of our society, which is diverse even if that diversity is not represented on every structural level. The effects of increasing diversity in business education are manifold: Not only do underrepresented students feel a greater sense of community, but all students are given the opportunity to hone their leadership skills with inclusion in mind and are thus better equipped to champion diversity in their careers.
The importance of diversity and representation was again made apparent for Kuo about four years ago when he had the opportunity to attend a Grace Hopper Celebration—a conference geared toward supporting women in computing. In every session he attended, Kuo was one of the few older male attendees in the room. While the demographics of the attendees did not surprise him, he was surprised by his own reaction to the experience. “I felt very uncomfortable. Even being as experienced as I am, I was overwhelmed. But the biggest thing was this: I knew there was a way out. After five days, I could go back to work, and I would not have to feel that way anymore.”
That experience brought him back to how he felt years ago, when he was just beginning his time at MIT Sloan and then starting his career in marketing—the drive to succeed and excel mixed with the uncertainty that comes with not sharing the same background as those who were in the room with him. “That made me realize: For those of us who have the ability to be an ally and to help change things, we should—because this is what some others experience every day. How can we actually make it better and easier for them?”
After that conference, Kuo converted his discomfort into meaningful change. His first step was finding a mentor—or what he calls a reverse mentor. Already a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft, Kuo wasn’t looking for someone who would coach him into the next step up in his career. Rather, he hoped to gain insight into how to create an inclusive space and a sense of belonging for colleagues of all backgrounds, genders, races, and age groups.
From his mentors, Yu-Ting learned that the path for those from underrepresented backgrounds is still far from easy. Moreover, change for these individuals will not happen on its own; we must take decisive action in order to catalyze that change. “We can’t just wait until we have enough women in a company. You have to start from the beginning of the pipeline, but there are things we can do today to help people who are already in the pipeline.” And the same applies to individuals of all underrepresented groups. By lowering financial barriers for students who experience underrepresentation, we can be more intentional about ensuring that our student body reflects the diversity we hope to see out in the world.
Kuo hopes for a day when it is no longer novel or rare for there to be diversity in the C-suite. "When we no longer have to celebrate when underrepresented individuals move into significant roles, that’s real.” And that is what Kuo hopes his gift to the Endowment for Enduring Diversity and Inclusion will help accomplish. He hopes to fuel a trend in graduate business education through which the value of diversity is better understood and appreciated, obstacles are removed for those who are underrepresented, and leadership at all levels better reflects our diverse society.